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We purchase all the shoes we review at retail with our own money, then we run in them for at least 50 miles. We don't receive free samples from companies and provide only expert, unbiased opinions.

All Surface Trail Running Shoes

These shoes are your all-rounders: capable of handling smooth, rocky, wet, and dry terrain – this category is always a great place to start.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re pairing things down for you. Within this category there are various outliers such as maximal and minimalist shoes, as well as varying heel drops (more on this later).

The important thing to remember about these shoes is that many models have been on the market for many years in different iterations, confirming their popularity among seasoned trail runners.

Saucony Peregrine ISO - Lateral Side
Retaining its lightweight neutral profile at 9.5 ounces, the Peregrine has been outfitted with an especially burly outsole featuring teeth-like lugs which work very well on technical terrain and even in slop. It also has great rock protection and a great cushioning to weight ratio and 4mm drop. Read full review »

Pros

  • Good option for most trail runners
  • Grippy when it needs to be
  • Builds on the model's long line of success
  • Decent responsiveness

Cons

  • May struggle with mud and other tough elements
  • A toe guard would add an extra layer of security
Nike Zoom Wildhorse 5 - Lateral Side
The Nike Wildhorse 5 is a decent trail shoe that is neither exceedingly fast nor exceedingly durable. It is pretty much middle of the road, which is not a bad thing.It's a good shoe for midweek training runs on the trails, provided the trails are moderate and not overly muddy or technical. Read full review »

Pros

  • Durable
  • Good foot protection from rock plate and EVA foam
  • Added toe bumper is improvement over previous editions
  • Solid price point $110

Cons

  • Not built for speed like the Nike Kiger
  • Struggles with damp, muddy or wet conditions
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 - Lateral Side
The Challenger ATR is an update to HOKA’s flagship lightweight trail shoe and weighs in at 9.8 ounces with a 5mm heel drop. There is a surprising amount of cushioning, and most runners are surprised at how protective this shoe is due to the fact that it lacks any sort of rock plate. Read full review »

Pros

  • Comfortable EVA foam
  • Wide toe box
  • True to size
  • Drains/dries well
  • All-terrain shoe

Cons

  • Not toothy enough for deep mud

Hard Ground Trail Running Shoes

This is a type of trail shoe designed to be worn almost exclusively on dry, hard packed, and rocky terrain.

Think of the arid southwest of the United States, southern France and Spain, Australia, and other climates which may tend toward the drier side.

While not to say that these shoes couldn’t work well in other conditions, they tend to be minimally lugged and would not be recommended for muddy conditions.

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 5 - Lateral Side
The Nike Terra Kiger 5 was created with speed on the trails in mind. From toe to heel, the shoes are designed to let the runner blaze down dirt trails, paved trails and roads. The more technical the terrain, the less effective the Kigers can be. Read full review »

Pros

  • Fast and quick
  • Comfortable, secure fit
  • More responsive than past models
  • Upgrades from previous model work well

Cons

  • Does not handle mud well
  • Rocky terrain can be a challenge
Altra Olympus 3 - Lateral Side
The Altra Olympus 3.0 is a maximally cushioned trail shoe that works well on just about any trail. If you’re going to be out on the trail for a substantial amount of time, you’ll likely appreciate the cushioning that the Olympus 3.0 provides. Read full review »

Pros

  • Good Grip
  • Maximal Cushioning

Cons

  • Heavy (Especially when Wet)

Soft Ground Trail Running Shoes

This speciality type trail shoe started its own niche several years ago pioneered by European brands such as Salomon and Inov8.

These shoes are typically heavily lugged with minimal uppers designed to shed mud and water as much as possible.

Again, just because a shoe is advertised as such doesn’t mean that trail runners won’t use soft ground shoes in dry conditions as many prefer the extra traction offered by these rugged outsoles.

Salomon Speedcross 5 - Lateral side
The Speedcross 5 is a great shoe for any time of loose or muddy trail, including snow, that you may encounter in all seasons. A fairly traditional 11mm heel drop paired with highly durable and sticky 5mm chevron shaped lugs gives the Speedcross 5 great traction and good stability. Read full review »

Pros

  • Traction
  • Comfort
  • Lacing system

Cons

  • Heel to toe drop
Mizuno Wave Inspire 15 - Lateral Side
The Altra Superior 4.0 is exactly as advertised: a lightweight trail shoe that performs well in a variety of trail conditions. Read full review »

Pros

  • Light Weight
  • Good Grip
  • Drains Well

Cons

  • Thin Sole
  • Minimal Protection

Road-to-trail Trail Running Shoes

This is a category that applies to many runners who run on a variety of terrain and want to get by with one pair of shoes.

These shoes also work well if you’re running on roads to access trails and they typically have outsoles more consistent with road shoes which offer little traction on loose terrain or steep ups or downhills.

Brooks Caldera 3 - Medial SIde
The Brooks Caldera 3 is a lightweight shoe with solid traction on road and less technical trail terrain, such as rocks, dirt, snow, and grass. The high stack midsole provides sufficient protection from obstacles on the trail and enough cushioning to go for miles. Read full review »

Pros

  • Excellent transition from road to trail
  • Lightweight
  • Responsive
  • Roomy and comfortable

Cons

  • Shorter lugs are not as reliable on slippery and rocky terrain
  • Upper is not very protective
The Saucony Xodus ISO 3 seems to be good for wet or dry trail, and isn't uncomfortable when I'm running on road or gravel between trail sections. It may feel a little clunkier at first, but I got used to it and the weight difference really didn't bother me. I wouldn't wear it for long periods on har Read full review »

Pros

  • The inside of the shoe upper is like a sleeve with no tongue to shift.
  • The sole has a toothy grip.
  • The shoe drains/dries well, with mesh over the whole forefoot.
  • Good cushion for a thinner shoe.
  • The shoe is true to size.

Cons

  • The heel cup seems a little wide, so there was some movement.
  • Not the best in icy conditions.

Trail running has grown exponentially over the past several years resulting in record setting participation at trail events and sold out races around the country.

These new participants consist of road runners gravitating towards a more forgiving surface and the relaxed atmospheres of trail races, as well as crossover and new athletes recognizing the appeal of hitting the single track for solitude and a mental reset.

With this increase in interest and participation shoe companies have responded by designing and releasing more trail running shoes than ever. Some of these models are tried and true generalists which are adequate for all types of trails, whereas other models are highly specialized for the terrain and distance.

Trail Shoe Jargon

There are several other things to consider whenever transitioning into a trail running shoe.

Heel drop can be a major consideration given that many road runners are transitioning from traditional road running shoes with a 10-12mm heel drop.

Heel drop is the differential between the heel and toe of the shoe which is measured in millimeters. This is important because many trail running shoes have lower heel drops which help condition a runner to a forefoot strike and provide better stability on technical trails. Road runners used to a higher heel drop may have difficulty with calve tightness and even achilles tendon issues if they transition too quickly.

Another consideration which many trail runners find to be an issue is forefoot width.

While road shoes feel more standardized, many trail running shoes have varying forefoot widths. While some shoes are more geared towards a tight fit for racing short distances and feeling secure on technical terrain, other long distance trail shoes accommodate for foot swelling that happens in the ultra distances.

Most trail running shoes, outside of those aimed at minimalist design, feature rock plates which are typically between the squishy midsole and the hard outsole of a trail shoe.

The purpose of the rock plate is to protect the foot from sharp rocks and stone bruises. While these can make trail shoes stiffer than road running shoes the added protection becomes key, especially after long distances on technical trails.

Trail running shoes also usually have a protective toe bumper which is usually made of welded on rubber overlays that protect the toes when hitting rocks on the front of the shoe.

Other welded on and sewn on overlays are usually more substantial than in road shoes for increased durability and stability in the shoe on terrain that requires frequent turns and steep downhills.

Some companies, especially Salomon and La Sportiva, have unique lacing designs made of kevlar that allow for quick and easy lacing and adjustments of the shoes.


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